The Beginning


My name is Maddie Butterfield, I am a second-year Medical Biology undergraduate student at the University of South Dakota.  I am a part of Dr. Jake Kerby’s Ecology lab at USD and have just received a summer fellowship with funding to perform research for his lab this summer.  This blog is a documentation of this summer… both for your benefit and my own!  I intend to use it as a journal of sorts – methodology, problems that arise (and their impending solutions!), things to think about moving forward, and other considerations like that.  I should preface, the work I am doing this summer will be the foundation for my Honors senior thesis, so documentation now will make my life exponentially easier once I get around to writing my thesis this coming fall.  I am additionally a member of USD’s Division I women’s soccer team, so I will be training for the entirety of the summer as well (soccer and science… what could be better?!), so my posts will most likely reflect either my research or my training (and perhaps a smattering of both and their interaction).

First and foremost, my about the research that I will be doing.  I will be assisting the Kerby lab as they travel up to Lake Oahe to survey for the state-threatened false map turtles along the banks of Lake Oahe [in case you’re interested: false map turtles are very prevalent in the flowing rivers particularly in South Dakota, but because Lake Oahe is a dammed river, the supreme change in hydrology from a flowing water source to a stagnant one has a significant impact on the types of species you will find along these rivers.  This will be a point of consideration for analysis.].  There currently is data surrounding populations of false map turtles in the rivers of South Dakota (I’ll get back to you on which ones specifically) but no data has yet to be collected regarding false map turtle population in Lake Oahe.  This survey will include catching any and all turtles in traps, collecting data about them (species, carapace length, sex, weight, rough age, photograph, cataloguing), and releasing them.  Along a large part of the shoreline of a very large lake.  It’ll be dope.

My project specifically is to study the presence and relative abundance [also called viral load: is effectively how much of the virus an organism has, based on number of copies of the viral DNA from a blood sample] of a specific strain of virus that affects cold-blooded animals including fish, turtles, amphibians called Ranavirus.  Ranavirus is a fairly prevalent virus among ectotherms (cold-blooded animals) and has been known to cause dieoffs in populations of fish, salamanders, and turtles (Johnson et al. 2008).  Additionally, it has been found that Ranavirus is virulent across different species and can transfer from one species to another (Jancovich et al. 2010).  Ranavirus has been detected in other organisms in states surrounding South Dakota, particularly Nebraska (Davis et al. 2016), and interestingly, should Ranavirus be present in the false map turtles, it would be the first indication of Ranavirus in turtles in the state of South Dakota.  In addition to testing for Ranavirus, I will also be studying the presence and abundance of a specific strain of bacteria, Serratia marsescens, that is present in the gut of the false map turtle.  Most organisms have a high volume of bacteria in a wide variety of species within their gut, creating an entire ecosystem usually deemed the bacterial microbiome [in case you’re interested: the distinction that it is the *bacterial* microbiome is an important one: the overall microbiome includes all microorganisms – including viruses, etc.] These bacteria play a very large role in maintaining the well-being of the animal, and the species I’ll be looking for, Serratia marsescens, is both a fairly common species, and is known to have immune-supporting functions (Zhou et al. 2015, Matsuda et al. 1999), which may have an impact on the Ranavirus presence or viral load in the organism.  Ultimately, the piece de resistance, the bulk of my analysis, my personal arc de triomphe; is a correlational analysis between Ranavirus presence and load and Serratia marsescens presence and load.  So I would most likely surround my thesis around that analysis.  Deep breath.  And that is my research!  I may post a copy of my UDiscover fellowship proposal for your perusal.

Okay, that’s my brief overview.  I’ll write again as I get closer to when I truly begin (June-ish).  Have an excellent day!




Davis D, J Kerby (2016). First detection of Ranavirus in amphibians from Nebraska, USA. Herpetological Review 47(1) p. 46-50.

Jancovich, JK, M Bremont, JW Touchman, BL Jacobs (2010). Evidence for multiple recent host species shifts among the Ranaviruses (family Iridoviridae).  Journal of Virology, 84(6), 2636-2648.

Johnson, AJ., Pessier, JFX Wellehan, A Childress, TM Norton, et al. (2008). Ranavirus infection of free-ranging and captive box turtles and tortoises in the United States. Journal of Wildlife Diseases: 44(4) p. 851-863.

Matsuda M, S Shigeta, K Okutani (1999). Antiviral activities of marine Pseudomonas polysaccharides and their oversulfated derivatives. Marine Biotechnology 1(1) p. 68-73.

Zhou W, C Zeng, R Liu, J Chen, R Li, et al. (2015). Antiviral activity and specific modes of action and bacterial prodgiosin against Bombyx mori nucleopolyhedrovirus in vitro. Applications of Microbiology Biotechnology, 100(9) p. 3979-88.


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